The Gravedigger's Daughter
When I look in the mirror every morning, I hate myself. It wasn't about looks, not really. I've always held the opinion that looks are over-rated and I stopped caring about mine a long time ago. What I hate is everything I see. All that I was inside, what I lacked, my face, the things I knew and didn't...I hated it all. I despised Avery Marks, whoever she was, whoever I was. It's unhealthy to hate yourself, or so the current consensus stands, but I don't know how to do anything else. Self-loathing is always easier than trying to change and in these past few months I've had enough change...none of it good.
It's funny how time passes in great spurts and when you're in those moments nothing is ever perfect but looking back you realize you had been happy. Most of us equate happiness with being horribly wealthy but in reality happiness is measured within the context of your own life. Does that make any sense? I guess what I mean is that happiness for me was being with my mom and dad and Alex and all of us were together. Simplicity is happiness. The things we did, none of it was extravagant but it was joy all the same, I can see that now. Tragedy opens your eyes to all kinds of truths, I've learned.
My world changed at the beginning of this summer, just after I'd finished Gr. 11 at Black Lily Valley High. That sounds dramatic I know, but it's how it was. June 23rd at 4:53. I'd both heard of and read the phrase 'My world changed within an instant' and this summer I came to understand what exactly that meant. As people with the smallest amount of stability, we're lulled into a false complacency. We come to believe that everything in our lives is solid and permanent when in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. The world is fragile and above all, human life is the most fragile.
A Gift From God, He Was Returned to God
How many times have I run my fingers over those stone-carved letters? My tears would splash down upon the bouquets we'd leave and nothing in my life ever hurt like this. Anytime, anywhere, I would always see the words they'd chosen.
A Gift From God, He Was Returned to God
We won't ever stop thinking about you.
I never would. That I vowed most fiercely. Time would not take his memory from me, not as God had. I hated God, if he did exist, almost as much as I hated myself. We would sit at the kitchen table, mom, dad and I and it felt like Alex was only playing outside. He would come in, just in a few minutes now, all covered in dirt with a new, wriggling pet in his little, muddy fingers and he would try to scare mom with it and then he would beg me to help him make a new home for the critter, sometimes it was a worm or a caterpillar or a beetle and dad would laugh at him, ruffling his sunny hair and if I believed it hard enough, it was true. He was only outside and I waited for him to come in until I caught sight of mom sitting across from me with huge, hollow eyes and pale fingers clenched within my father's shaking ones and then I could feel myself also shaking and my breathing started to get choppy.
There are no words to describe how much I missed Alex, my baby.
It was Alex's death that brought us to Mrs. Eleanor Cherrybrooke's attention. Her grandson Ralph, a man I abhorred with a murderous capacity I didn't know I possessed, miles high on cocaine and alcohol, had run over Alex as he'd been crossing the street. Ralph hadn't been sorry, hadn't really cared, had only been super pissed because now he'd be back in jail. He had tried to flee before smashing into a telephone pole and knocking himself unconscious. It hadn't meant anything to Ralph, that a seven-year old boy with two front teeth missing and another one wiggly wouldn't ever open his bright eyes again. Mrs. Cherrybrooke tried to clean up Ralph's mess but even as wealthy as she was, she couldn't change her grandson's action. I added her to my hate list because afterall, what did any of it matter? Alex was gone and Mrs. Cherrybrooke had tried to offer us money as a way to make amends but mom and dad had refused with a quiet dignity that had made her ashamed and me proud. She did pay for the entire funeral without our knowledge and it was in her compensation that again, I found my life changing.
Mrs. Cherrybrooke was a widow. Her husband had left her an enormous fortune and in return she gave large donations to charities and hospitals and schools. One school in particular interested her as it had been her own Alma Mater. Arlington Academe was a co-ed private school that boasted of educating the richest children in Canada, being as it had the impeccable reputation for being the top school in the entire country. Tuition for only one year stood at a whopping $15,000 which was more than half of what my mother made as a checkout clerk at the Green Reed Street Superstore. Mrs. Cherrybrooke sat upon the Arlington Academe Board of Trustees and she had decreed that I be allowed to enter Arlington for my final year of high school and then had proceeded to pay the whole year's tuition for me.
To her credit, Mrs. Cherrybrooke truly was sorry for Ralph's actions and my parents recognized and ended up accepting her altruism, at least with regards to Arlington Academe. I wasn't so forgiving because no amount of monetary gains could ever bring Alex back to me but I kept quiet. My parents had their own grief to deal with. I agreed to attend Arlington simply to please them. I knew I wouldn't fit in at that snob-fest of a private school but I figured it couldn't be any worse then my old high school. I had no real friends there and I'd been a loner. I suppose it didn't matter where I was a loner because alone is alone, even in the midst of a crowd.
I looked at the uniform sitting upon my bed and cringed. My school wardrobe now consisted of a maroon and navy plaid skirt, a grey button-down shirt, black tie, black knee socks and upon formal occasions, a black blazer bearing the school emblem. I felt equal parts disgust and rage. Tomorrow I would be wearing this junk to become another generic face in a sea of wealthy students. I repressed a sigh and left my room.
Downstairs was unearthly silent. Mom was still at work and dad had only come home a little while ago. I quietly peeked around and found him sitting in the living room. His head was bowed low and on his lap I could see Alex's Gr. 1 journal. He read it compulsively, for hours on end. I saw that he hadn't even bothered to get cleaned up. By profession he was a gravedigger and both his work boots and clothes with filthy and rained dried mud upon the carpet. There was a time when he never would have sat in the living room without showering. My dad used to be been a complete neat freak, obsessed with shining surfaces and clutter-free room. Now none of that mattered.
He gave no indication of hearing me.
I pressed on. "I'm going outside for a while. Is that okay?"
Not looking up, he only turned the page. From where I stood I could see that he was reading the entry Alex had written about his surprise seventh birthday party. Dad and I had built him a tree house for him. Alex had shrieked and hugged me so hard he cut off circulation. Dad's fingers were shaking again. I knew he was remembering what I remembered.
I left the room, wanting to tell dad that I understood but I didn't know how. I found my shoes, shoved them on and stepped outside. None of us talked to each other, not really. Mom would sometimes mention something Alex had done and it would wring an echo of a smile from dad. Other then that, we were all separated in our grief. Some families pull together in times of misfortune and some drift apart. We were the latter. Mom and dad wouldn't really talk o each other, just hold hands occasionally. I was never one to let anyone know how I was feeling and I couldn't bear talking about Alex. He was mine and he was too precious to me and no one else deserved to know what I felt for him. That included my parents, though I did wish it were otherwise.
Clenching icy fingers together, I began to walk. Since it was only the first week of September, the weather was still warm but I was cold all the same. I moved mechanically, seeing nothing and without thought. I knew what 'going through the motions' meant because that's pretty much what I was doing. I preferred it, this blank numbness. I didn't want to heal and learn to ' deal with my misery' and all that psychological bullshit. Forgetting Alex and letting his memory dim was the one thing I wasn't prepared to do and if that meant 'going through the motions' for the rest of my life, then so be it. I had nothing else to live for.
I passed beneath the iron wrought arch bearing the curling words 'Black Lily Valley Memorial Cemetery' before I knew it. The sunlight gleamed upon the many rows of both crumbling and polished markers. The wind rustled through the many trees that were planted throughout the cemetery. I walked faster, my footsteps crunching against the asphalt path.
I stopped suddenly at the sound of my name and a rush of guilt washed over me. I didn't like anyone knowing how often I frequented Alex's grave. I looked to my right to see Mrs. Cherrybrooke standing a few rows in, before an enormous pillar like monument. She was holding a lavish bouquet of flowers in her hands. A boy about my age stood near her.
I didn't want to talk to her, not ever. "What?"
She blinked at my curt tone but since I had been nothing but borderline rude to her, I didn't imagine she was too surprised. "I was hoping to run into you, my dear. Today's the fifth anniversary of my husband's death. I know how you're feeling and believe me, it will get easier."
My eyes narrowed. I didn't want it to get easier! I never wanted that. I wanted to continue to be as I am so that I wouldn't ever forget Alex. How could she compare her geezer of a husband who had lead a full life to my brother who had only been seven? She didn't know anything. "You know nothing about how I'm feeling," I spat viciously. "I don't need your goddamn advice!"
She flinched and was determined. She changed the subject to the boy with her. "This is my grandnephew Markus. He also attends-"
I was in no mood to make acquaintances. "I'm running late," I interrupted roughly. "I gotta go."
Without waiting for a reply, I stalked away. My heart was racing. Why the hell should her stupid grandnephew get to live? Why was Ralph still alive? He didn't deserve to be in prison, he deserved to die! Bitter liquid stung at my eyes. I sucked in air and forced myself not to cry. Not here, where anyone could see me. I broke into a run, dashing up the hill to the children's burial site.
Alex's gravestone was in a corner, drowning in the shade of a large Red Maple tree. The blue and orange silk flowers mom had planted to bloom eternally rest against the smooth grey stone. Blue and orange had been Alex's favorite colors. There were also a few bouquets of flowers arranged around the tombstone. I fell to my knees upon the green grass and bit at my fingers to keep from sobbing.
"I miss you so much kiddo," I gasped, choking. "Everyday, for all of my life. It should have been me. They would have been okay Alex, they really would have. But without you, they're dying. We all are. I want to see you so much." I broke off, unable to speak now. My tears spilled upon the stone.
Two months had passed and every time I came to this grave, I still wept like a child.